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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 21:23 EDT

Moonrat, Echinosorex gymnura

The moonrat (Echinosorex gymnura) is the sole member of its genus Echinosorex within the family Erinaceidae. It can be found in many areas including the peninsulas on Thailand and Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra, and southern Myanmar. It prefers to live in jungles and occurs in lowlands at altitudes of up to 2,952 feet in Borneo. Preferred habitats include swamps and mangrove forests, and in Malaysia, it can occur in gardens and on plantations.

The moonrat holds two subspecies that differ in appearance. E. g. alba occurs in Borneo, and is white if viewed from far away, but actually bares black spots throughout its coat. E. g. gymnura occurs in the Thai-Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, and has frontal fur that appears whitish grey in color with the rest of the fur holding a black color. The moonrat reaches an average body length between thirteen and sixteen inches, and weight between 1.9 and 2.4 pounds. The tail can grow to an average of up to eleven inches. Despite its resemblance to a rat, it is most closely related to hedgehogs.

Adult moonrats are typically solitary and will mark the boundaries of their territories using a strong ammonia order to ward off other moon rats. After breeding, females will construct a nest using leaves and will later give birth to one or two young, with two being more common. The diet of the moonrat consists of many things including invertebrates like insects or worms, as well as fruits or fish. The average lifespan of a moonrat is five years.

Although the moonrat is not endangered, it is threatened by habitat loss due to deforestation for agricultural purposes. In one area of Borneo, the Penan people hunt the moonrat for food and for traditional medicine practices. This species is a common pet in the United States and does occur in some protected areas, like Kuching Wetlands National Park in Malaysia. The moonrat appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Least Concern.”

Image Caption: A stuffed Echinosorex gymnura at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Credit: David Starner/Wikipedia  (CC BY 3.0)

Moonrat Echinosorex gymnura